Masks are not only for Carnival nor are bicycles only for the summer. In Extremadura, a region in Spain, which is west of Madrid and bordering with neighboring Portugal, there are unique celebrations that wander around the use of masks: the “Jarramplas”, the “Carantoñas”, the “Negritos de San Blas” that revive every year in Piornal, Acehúche and Montehermoso. These are beautiful places to visit. All are traditional festivals that also welcome the new year, because they are celebrated in January and February. One of the common denominators of all three is the use of masks, disguises or painted faces with heavy make-up. They also combine ancestral rites that make them an essential visit for any curious traveler.
Jarramplas, in Piornal
The calendar of the celebrations with masks in Extremadura begins in the highest town of the region, Piornal. Every year on January 20th, the coldest day of the season, a strong Captain raises the flag and people sing at dawn, announcing the arrival of the Jarramplas, a character dressed in a costume full of multicolored flowing ribbons and covered with a conical mask, that goes all over the street of town, since the previous evening playing a drum. He receives a shower of turnips when the neighbors spot him. As a punishment, because it is said that is he represents a cattle thief. But the truth is that this is a Fiesta of National Tourist Interest and is the pride of the whole town. People have formed a long waiting list that grows every year, to be able to incarnate the Jarramplas. This is a genuine ritual of the Valley of the Jerte that attracts visitors from all over the country and has represented Extremadura in the “Festival de Mascaras Ibéricas” (Festival of Iberian Masks) shared by Spain and Portugal.
Las Carantoñas, in Acehúche
At this multinational festival the “Carantoñas de Acehúche” also represents us, who have their Festivity on the 20th of January, the day of Saint Sebastian. Acehúche is a small town in the Province of Cáceres, located by the river of Fresnedosa. It is fills with characters with heads covered with monstrous masks with or with out animal skins; and can be decorated with teeth, animal ears or peppers but what they do no lack is a dry branch of wild olive tree in each hand.
It is said that this represent the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian, very respected by the beasts. And in fact, the “Carantoñas” revere the Saint, when it comes past them in a procession between songs, dances and live shots in the air. Before the appearance of the “Carantoñas” the maidens have already decorated the streets, they are dressed in traditional costumes and are called “Reagoras”, their responsibility is to water the rosemary that is used during the procession of the Saint.
When the “Vaca-Tora” (Cow-Bull) appears, a huge Carantoña with an immense cowbell on its neck, it marks the end of the festivity. All the other Carantoñas flee scared and participants go to the house of the butler for refreshments of wine and sweets. This is a festival of Touristic interest in Extremadura.
Los Negritos de San Blas, in Montehermoso
Into February, at Montehermoso, those who come to the scene are the “Negritos de San Blas”, who do not wear masks but go around the town with their faces tinted in black. They dance to the rhythm of tambourines and at the directions of the “Palotero” who looks like the buffoon of the celebration because of his unusual clothing which contrast greatly with the other participants, who are dressed with the typical attire of Montehermoso.
The festivity starts on the night of the candles, on February 2, with washed faces and it considered the big day, for San Blas, when they perform the ritual of the “Tiznado” or making up of faces, as the tradition commands. The legend says that these characters belonged to a family that came to beg and decided to hide their faces. Now it is a Festival of Tourist Interest for this town in Extremadura and a sign of identity for “Montehermoso”, in the Valle of the Alagón River, that in itself represents the essence of the spirit of Extremadura.
Original article by Merche R. Rey
Translated by Susana Windt
Published in December, 2016